Five high school students went to Utah for a week long expedition. They designed their own research projects around the National Park System. They hiked miles on a multitude of different types of trails and soaked up information in visitor centers. It was a trip of a lifetime!
The group left ATLAS Learning Academy in Lincoln, CA just after 4:00 am. Students were instantly asleep in the van and one stayed asleep over most of the next 12 hours. Driving the "loneliest highway in America" (Hwy 50), the group set out in an easterly direction. By around noon they were in Ely, NV for some lunch and by 3:30 PM they were rolling through the Bryce Canyon National Park entrance. Arriving earlier than expected, they set up camp and headed out to the visitor center to do some exploring.
After learning all kinds of interesting things, the group headed out to the canyon rim to watch the sunset before heading back to camp to make dinner and get some needed rest.
The plan was made that afternoon to hike the Narrows Wednesday and Angel's Landing on Thursday. The Narrows is a sixteen mile section of the Virgin River which is a gorge with walls a thousand feet tall and the river sometimes just twenty to thirty feet wide. The "Bottom Up" allows day hikers to hike 4 miles into the canyon before turning around. The canyon starts out a bit wider and not as deep. The further up the canyon the deeper the water and narrower the canyon.
The group boarded the bus at about 9:00 am for the 40 minute ride to the other end of the canyon. Once at the shuttle drop-off called the Temple of Sinawava, it was still another 1.25 miles to the end of the trail and the mouth of the Narrows. This is where the 4 mile hike of the river begins.
After about three miles, there were two pools that needed to be crossed. Each of those pools went to nearly each person's shoulders. At the end of the four miles, the group stopped in a isolated bend of the river to enjoy the last rays of sun getting into the canyon.
Thursday was the famous Angel's Landing hike. Angel’s Landing is one of the world's most renowned hikes, and is an unforgettable short adventure hike worthy of all bucket lists. Anyone in an average physical condition can make the trek, but it can be mentally challenging with its steep switchbacks and sheer drop-offs. There are chains bolted into the cliff to provide secure handholds all the way to Scout Lookout. Boarded the shuttle at 8:00 am for the 30 minute ride to the trail-head where winds were beginning to blow.
The trail out and back is a mere 5 miles. The first two miles are filled with steep switchbacks.
Because the group had heard a thunderstorm was coming late in Thursday night and early Friday morning, the choice was made to get a jump on the storm and leave Thursday early evening. The group took a southerly route home to skirt the falling snow all along highway 50.
This picture pretty much says it all about the drive for the students.
And there it is. Another amazing ATLAS expedition in the books. In this group of students:
None had ever seen a Hoodoo.
None had ever walked a "trail" in the water.
Some had never hiked as many miles in a day.
Some had never seen red dirt.
Some had never been physically challenged as much.
Some had never been out of California.
All were pushed harder academically than ever to create their own customized research project.
All did things that they will share with their grandchildren.
All will create projects that are worthy of college and career readiness.
Two teachers and five high school students went to Yosemite for a week long expedition. They would be in Valley on day and night one and then in the backcountry for the rest of the week. It was epic.
We left ATLAS at about 7:30 today and arrived on the valley floor at 12:30. Picked up our permit at the wilderness station in Yosemite Village and we were lucky enough to get a ranger who taught a mini Leave No Trace lesson to a group of students who recently received LNT certificates through a short online REI class.
Wandered around in the visitor center afterwards and had students take pictures of items and displays that might be of help in some of their projects connected to the trip.
After a quick stop in the village store for snacks we made our way to Upper Pines Campground and got camp set up for our one night in the valley. Once done, we hopped back in the van and headed to the Yosemite Falls Trailhead to walk the one mile loop to the base of the falls.
Upon arriving at the falls we decided to boulder to the foot of the falls and some of the students hopped in the frigid water. We then hiked back through the Yosemite Lodge property and into the meadows surrounding the Merced River. Students took in the views of Half Dome, Glacier Point, the Cathedral Spires and El Cap. When all started getting hungry we headed back to the campground to do some cooking before turning in for the night.
Woke up at about 7:00 to a light drizzle, broke down camp and had some food before hitting the road.
Arrived at the Ten Lakes Trailhead at 9:30 and hit the trail.
The trail immediately started to ascend and students were pumping along at a very quick pace. It wasn't long before they petered out a bit and finally had to stop and rest a bit.
The rest of our 7ish mile hike was much of the same with some longer breaks to let students catch their breaths. We crested Ten Lakes Pass and had some snacks before hiking the 2 more miles to Lake #3. There are 10 lakes in the basin and we decided to camp at one off the main trail to try to have a lake to ourselves. And a lake to ourselves we got. Sitting in a small bowl, Lake #3 is amazing.
Almost all swam before snacking. Later a competitive game of Uno took place before students found quiet places to work in some writing responses to prompts they chose before the trip.
It was a cloudless night and much colder here at 9000 feet than the Valley 4000 foot elevation. A great night sleep.
Woke up to another light drizzle today, a bit harder than yesterday. It rained on and off for about 90 minutes before we were able to spread out all our gear in the sun to dry out. We swam a bit more before hitting the trail. We walked back to Lake #1 and around the opposite side that we had come in on. After less than a mile, we rejoined the Ten Lakes Trail and headed east and up. The climb of nearly 700 feet had everyone huffing and puffing. We arrived at Lake #4 and took a short break before heading off trail for the next 48 hours. Up over a small Pass and then up another led us to beautiful Lake #5.
There was really only one viable campsite for our size group on the north side of the lake and about 100 feet above the water. We set up camp, had some lunch and did some swimming at this beautiful granite lined 9400 ft. lake. In the afternoon, we decided to go for a afternoon day hike up to the top of the pass above the lake. Over 900 feet of elevation, had us walking on ridges, hopping over creeks, trekking through alpine tundra, walking next to ice cold ponds, crossing snow fields, picking our way through boulders, and working to keep our footing while navigating inclined fields of scree. It was amazing and all 5 students stood atop the 10,300 ft unnamed pass with northern views into the depths of Yosemite and out at peaks topping 12,000 feet.
The afternoon was filled with more swimming, eating, swimming and student work. Just after sunset, each student stood, one at a time, with the lake as their backdrop, and presented his paper. Each shared his feelings and ideas surrounding nature in the form of a written response to an English writing prompt. All were terrific!
No rain this morning!! We all slept in knowing that the mileage to our next camp wasn't very far. It was a leisurely morning of sitting in the sun, a few went swimming, and enjoying our surroundings.
We packed up about 10:30 and hit the dirt. Our goal was to hike along the side of a mountain, heading for a pass above Lake #6. It was epic. With no trail to follow, the two teachers took the front and back and kept the group together but not too close. Where yesterday's day hike was filled with large boulders, today's hike was filled with medium and small rocks. This made hiking slowly and carefully our main objective. Students were spaced out at about 40 yard intervals and worked together to point out the best route for the one behind them. They often stopped and held a hand out for another as they crossed a particularly tricky section.
In the end all made it to the top of the pass and took a break for a bit before heading down the other side. The back side was very different as there were many trees, bushes and loose sand. We took it slowly as the first of the two Granite Lakes came into view. We continued to stay high and skirt the side as we aimed for the second and smaller lake that would be home for the night.
After arriving at about 3:30, the students collapsed into their sleeping pads to rest, eat and hydrate.
The afternoon was filled with much of the same and some Uno added in as well. Early to bed as we hit the trail at 6:30 to get a good start home.
Today was an early up and out! Students were up at 5:30 am and out of camp by 6:30 am. We hiked about a mile mile and a half off trail before hooking back up with the trail we came in on. This type of trip route is called a lollipop as we came in and out on the same trail and completed a loop at the “top of the stick.”
We were back at the trailhead and van a bit after 8:00. After a quick stop at Omstead Point for a few pictures from the very spot Ansel Adams stood, we continued to Tenya Lake for a ceremonial “get clean swim.” After a bit of complaining that the water was “too cold” all five students completed the required “complete submersion” needed to sit in a van for the next several hours on the way home. A stop at The Barn, in Bridgeport, CA and we were back on the road to Lincoln.
Day two included the teachers using the sprayer and students doing hand brushing of much of the trim. All of ATLAS was painted a grey for a base coat and the sky blue that matches the interior. Students did all the clean up of tape, paper and general trash. They also learned how to effectively clean out an expensive pressure washer and the importance of proper care of supplies. The building looks great! Come and see it!
Our gear includes: backpacks, sleeping bags, sleeping bag liners, sleeping pads, tents, Tyvek for ground sheets, waterproof food bags, Frogg Togg rain gear, JetBoil cook sets and fuel, Sawyer Filters for water purification, Nalgene Canteens, rope, gloves, snowshoes, trekking poles and pole baskets, winter gaiters and now booties.
A bucket list trip it was! Even though some of these students might not be old enough to even have bucket lists...buckets were filled in more ways than one.
We left Lincoln at about 7:30 and began on the long twisty roads right away. The district van; not a sports car. After making our way into the park we took Tioga Road to the Porcupine campground. It was nearly empty. We found two spots next to each other with enough room (only 6 people were allowed at a single site) and began setting up camp…..in the snow. Yes, it had been snowing for about 30 minutes and many of our 6 had never seen snow coming out the other sky. As with the other trip, the teachers began teaching and modeling the correct procedures for setting up camp. Everyone was moving quickly to stay as dry as possible.
Once camp was set up we loaded the van and drove to the May Lake trail-head, our planned short trek (1.25 miles to the lake) for the afternoon. Once at the trail-head the weather was more of a sleet than a snowfall and we decided that because of the weather, we would forgo the hike this afternoon and hope for the best tomorrow. Instead, we drove further up Tioga Road, past the other campground and past the post office, to a huge granite monolith that disappeared into the low clouds. Once the van was parked the students couldn’t wait to do some exploring as we had been sitting in the van for the vast majority of the day. The rock was smooth and slippery with tiny streams running down all over. The group explored the rock for about an hour before the cold and moisture started to soak into everyone. The group then made their way back to the van to head back to the campsite and some dinner.
Cooking was a wet activity in the light drizzle. Standing close to the campfire provided some relief. After dinner the clouds parted and gave way to a beautiful sky filled with stars. Everyone had to look quickly, as a layer of fog dropped in and blanketed everyone in a fine mist. The group visited around the campfire for quite a while and then a few at a time ventured off to their tents to get ready for the big day planned tomorrow.
The teachers woke the students at 6:00 to an icy cold and crystal clear morning. Temperatures had dropped overnight into the high teens and all of the moisture from the snow, rain and mist had all frozen overnight. It was easy to hear campers around the campground emerge from their tents as the crackle of ice breaking off tent rain-flys could be heard everywhere.
After a quick breakfast we boarded the van once more and drove east on Tioga Road. We stopped first at Olmstead Point, one of the most famous views of Yosemite. After a bit of exploring and picture taking, we drove to the Sunrise Lakes trail-head to begin our hike for the day. Our goal was Clouds Rest. A 14.5 mile round trip with a total elevation gain of 1,775 feet. A distance and elevation that none of the students in this group had ever attempted before. Everyone was dressed in all of their layers as we hit the trail with the temperature at 24 degrees. Cold bodies warmed up fast as the rocky inclined trail pushed everyone. The uphill continued for about 90 minutes when we took a break on a saddle under Sunrise Peak. Students did some reflective writing connected with their lab and also some work with their resting pulse rate; work from another lab prior to the trip. After some food, water, work and small talk...it was back to the trail for the 4.7 miles left to get to the top of Clouds Rest.
We dropped into a valley for the next hour or so passing a small lake, a couple streams and some beautiful fall color.
The hike continued up the final assent to the top of Clouds Rest. Students were getting tired at this point and the group broke into three smaller groups going various paces. The last spur before the top was a narrow granite ledge that tested each of the students both physically and mentally. Hikers needed to stay focused and diligent during this last section.
Finally, the entire crew made it to the top. The first group had about 2 hours to take in the view and the last group had about 30 minutes. All in all, it was a beautiful day. The cold kept us all on our toes. The mental and physical demands of the day were real growth experiences for everyone. On the top, a few students continued on their writing while others did some work with their resting pulse and still others did nothing at all except try to take in the enormity of it all.
The hike down, although exhausting, was a good amount faster and we were back at the van as the sun was going behind the granite peaks around us. On the drive back to camp, we decided to stop at Olmstead Point once more so that students could get a clear view of what they had just attempted. They posed pointing in gratification at the top of Clouds Rest knowing something about themselves that just 12 hours prior, they hadn’t known. They were indeed hikers who could tackle a 14.5 mile day!
Dinner that night was much the same as the first night, only much more dry. Although students were tired, most stayed up late talking about the day and enjoying each other’s company.
By 8:00 AM the next morning breakfast had been eaten and camp had been broken down. We loaded up the van and drove east once more on Tioga Road but this time kept going right over Tioga Pass and onto the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Crossing over the top, we immediately started getting views of aspen trees turning from green to yellows, oranges and reds. We continued down the pass and headed straight for Mono Lake. Students had never been on the eastern side of the Sierras and had never seen Mono Lake. The group took some time on a sunny back deck of the Visitor Center to do some more writing that would help finish up projects once back at school. After some writing, students spent time in the Visitor Center learning about the history, geology and science behind Mono Lake and the Owens River Valley. It ended up being information that would facilitate some interesting conversations on the way back to school that day.
We stopped for lunch in Bridgeport for a much needed burger or burrito (the restaurant serves both). Continuing on, we got more and more views of beautiful aspen colors and in Hope Valley stopped one more time so students would have a final place to do some more work on their projects. The area was perfect to inspire these young writers.
This was an amazing trip with a terrific group of students. This will surely not be our last trip to Yosemite National Park or the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada Mountains.
Today, was our final lab. At the end of the previous lab students were given lists of clothing and food that they were to bring to today’s lab. ATLAS has all of the gear needed to go on trips, but food and clothing are the student’s responsibility. After checking what students brought in, making lists of what was still needed, the teachers issued gear to each student. Gear issued included: a backpack, sleeping bag, sleeping bag liner, sleeping pad, tent and ground cover (to groups of two), a down jacket, food bag, rain gear, stove and fuel, water purifier, and gloves. Time was spent going over each piece of gear, it’s use and care for it. Once all the gear was issued, we spent the rest of the time teaching students about how exactly to pack a backpack. We are all ready to go. Student will be here at 7:00am Monday!
Today was the second lab in preparation for our Yosemite trip in October. Today’s focus was on the science of nature. Our focus was on the following:
Does something special and clinically therapeutic happen when people spend time in nature?
Is spending time in nature good for your heart?
Does spending time in nature increase your sense of awe?
Does spending time in nature help with symptoms of ADHD, depression and anxiety?
After doing a “close read” of an article from Time Magazine, students did some work with their own heartbeats as well as some writing reflections of the article that was discussed. This work will be used on both the trip and at the culmination of the trip to come to specific conclusions about how spending time in nature affects humans physically and emotionally.
Why are the outdoor leadership roles, skills and values essential for a safe, fun and growth oriented trip?
What are the different leadership roles in the outdoors and how can they be applied in everyday living?
What are the skills and values (characteristics) needed to develop your potential as a leader?
This discussion would help us move into our future labs, the trip itself and finally projects that would enable students to earn credits.
We had a wonderful trip! The night before the hike, temperatures dropped and the high mountains were covered with a dusting of snow for our viewing pleasure. Temperatures were chilly and it was partly cloudy today...perfect for a day hike. Students did a great job on the trek.
There were numerous ups and downs as we hiked towards Emerald Bay and wonderful overlooks with views of the entire lake. Five of our eight students had never seen Lake Tahoe and it didn’t disappoint. Upon reaching Emerald Bay, students looked out at Fannette Island, the only island in Lake Tahoe. Students were fascinated to learn that Fannette Island was the home of Captain Dick Barter from 1863 to 1873. The eccentric captain had moved from England and built his own tomb and chapel on the island. They also learned that the island held the ruins of a small stone building, the "Tea House", constructed by Mrs. Lora Josephine Knight. Mrs. Josephine enjoyed inviting guests to the island to share in a cup of tea.
After a break for lunch, and a bit of a history lesson, students hit the trail once again. After a couple hours of hiking and some antics in terms of students running up on the trail to scare others, we arrived back at the van for the drive back to Lincoln.
Tomorrow is our second trip of the year. We were hoping to get a lab in before this trip but it didn’t happen. We will be on the ball by the next trip. We are heading to the Rubicon Trail along Lake Tahoe. It’s an eight mile trail from DL Bliss State park to Emerald Bay. We have two students joining us from Lincoln High School as well.
Students from the trip last week worked on the final touches in terms of earning high school credits from the trip. Essays were written, PE minutes were logged and 3-D maps of the area we visited were created. All of these projects helped students earn credits towards graduation.
What an amazing trip we had. After an uneventful drive to the trailhead we set off for Long Lake. We only took four students on this trip to be able to work out the kinks in our structure. We also deliberately chose a destination that would be a short hike into base camp as this is our first trip of the program. Our hike was barely a mile into the lake basin. We found a perfect site for our five tents with a terrific view of the lake.
Students were given directions and instruction on proper camp set up from choosing appropriate tent sites, tent building, and gear stowing.
After setting up camp, the group went on a 3 mile hike on the back side of the lake and up into a slight canyon. The views were amazing back into Long Lake’s basin. The air was a bit smokey because of some CA fires, but the students did very well. Once back at the lake the students swam in the lake and found some good jumping rocks.
Evening was filled with lessons on using our JetBoil backpacking stoves as well as Leave No Trace ethics in terms of cooking areas and the proper storage of food and trash. The stars came out as all retired to tents.
Day 2 started with a breakfast and a bit of morning swimming. We then hiked back out to the van and drove up Old Hwy. 40 to the railroad tunnels at the top of Donner Summit. We spent a couple hours walking through the tunnels and learning about the history behind the building of them back in the mid 1800s. Students asked great questions and reviewed a lot of material that they had forgotten from 4th grade Social Studies in terms of who Theodore Judah was and the sacrifices of Chinese laborers in the building of the tunnels.
After a lunch of burgers in Truckee, it was back to the trail-head for the short hike back to base-camp. Students found a rope swing that entertained them for hours in the afternoon. That evening, after dinner, students finished a reflective essay about nature and the trip. As the sun went down and the stars come out, each student read their essay to the group while the rest stared up at the universe and were treated to a shooting star festival.
The next morning was an early morning hike out so that we could drive down to Donner Lake for the morning. Students lazed on a public dock and did some final swimming of the trip before making our way back to the van and back to Lincoln.
ATLAS is up and running with 9 students. The building is bustling with activity as we finish painting the interior and await the photo art that we have ordered to decorate the walls. The learning rooms are slowly coming together and the gear room is in the planning stages. We are so excited at all the possibilities. We are also getting ready for our first backpacking trip of the school year. Stay tuned!